Friday, November 21, 2014

Incan inspiration

  When we were in Peru several years ago, I acquired some beautiful weavings including this bag.
The quality of weaving and natural dyeing in Peru is amazing. As a former weaver, I am in awe of the weavings they create with the simplest of technology.
   Starting in Peru, I acquired the questionable habit of buying a ball or two of alpaca yarn in colors that appealed to me whenever I found them. This is probably the silliest way there is to begin to design a sweater. Finally I chose yarn from my stash and knit a sweater for myself combining stripes and waves. The wave motif is very common in Peruvian textiles and easy to transfer to knitting even though it's far less detailed than in fine weavings.
    I used bands of wave patterns and for my larger motif I designed a double wave inside a tilted rectangle.
   Many of my sweaters evolve as I knit them. For example, I often decide what to put on the sleeves once I get there. Instead of doing all kinds of math to figure out the sleeve decreases I lay out a sweater I like and put the new sleeve on top of it. Then I do my decreases to make it the same shape. As I knit the first sleeve I record what I do so I can make the second sleeve the same way.
   As I was sitting around admiring my handiwork on my almost completed sweater, I noticed a big boo-boo on the front where stitches in one row went astray. You can probably see it right away. (In this picture it's on the top wave band on the right side.) How did I not see that when I knit it!? Perhaps I was watching TV.
Fortunately there was an easy way to fix that with duplicate stitch.
Now I could show the front in public without being embarrassed.
I used steeks for the arm holes and the front band. After I cut the front steek I picked up stitches and knit the bands and their facings. Anything other than a zipper would have interfered with the pattern on the front bands. I found a company on-line that sells lightweight separating zippers in a plethora of colors so I was able to buy one that matched my band color very closely. Mr. Rududu drilled some small holes in that heavy plastic part at the bottom of the zipper so I could sew it down by hand.
  The sleeves are slightly inset for a better fit. After setting aside a few stitches for the underarm, I added my steek and decreased a stitch every other row for a couple of inches on each side of the steek. After grafting the shoulders, I cut the steek and picked up stitches around the arm hole. The sleeves were knit down to the cuffs and finished with a facing, as were the collar and bottom band. Purling two rows before the facing makes for a very neat edge. By the way, I started the sweater with a provisional cast on and added the lower band after I had decided what the bands would be like. All part of my "method".
  Most people use patterns and I've heard that people who design their own sweaters generally plan them out in advance. These people lead far less exciting lives than I. Failure to plan ahead can lead to exciting trips to the local yarn store in search of something very specific.  Perhaps the ladies at the yarn store wondered why I hadn't just bought all the yarn specified in the pattern. Wait a second. What pattern?
But now I do have a pattern. I'm so smitten with the feel of the alpaca and the lovely colors available I plan to continue collecting colors and some day I will turn to Peru for more inspiration.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In search of unknown fruit

  I love fruit and in Costa Rica I've tried quite a few that were new to me. Let's start with what is a favorite fruit and one I've only seen in Costa Rica: caimito. It's a sphere, purple on the outside and shading from purple to white on the inside. I like to eat it with a spoon as the texture is a bit like custard. A lot of Costa Ricans don't like it because it has some latex which makes your lips sticky. A tip I haven't had a chance to try yet: after eating caimito rub your lips with some oil to remove the latex. I find the flavor so beguiling that I don't mind some stickiness.

   Did you know that the cashew nut we eat grows on the outside of a fruit? Every nut represents a fruit, perhaps explaining what cashews are so expensive. Native to Brazil, Ticos and other Spanish speakers call the fruit and nut marañón.  People make a juice of the fruit and it's one fruit I just don't like. It smells bad to me. I'll stick to eating the delicious nuts.
   The following photo shows two fruits: the red manzana de agua or water apple and mamón. Water apples, originally from the Malay peninsula and nearby areas, are quite bland and juicy. I guess they would be really good to quench a thirst on a very hot day. Not a frequent need in Monteverde so I don't eat them often. Mamón, a South American native,  has a crisp shell around a large seed. In between the seed and the shell is a small layer of tart flesh. It's fun to peel the shell off with your fingernail and pop the insides in your mouth so you can gnaw the fruit off the seed. The fruit doesn't come off the seed easily so it's a good way to pass some time.
 Here's another picture of water apples, a grenadilla and some green jocotes. A fruit from the cashew family originally from Central America, jocotes are now also cultivated in Asia. You eat jocotes whole, skin and all. Perhaps I would like them better if Costa Ricans let them ripen but here they are sold while still green so they are tart. I think maybe people sprinkle salt on the them, the way they do with unripe mangoes.
  Grenadilla is a fruit related to passion fruit. The outside has a crisp, papery layer. Inside the many small seeds are each inside a small packet of juicy fruit.  I scoop the insides into a blender and run at top speed briefly. Next I use a sieve to remove the seed particles. The seeds are edible so a few bits of seeds getting through isn't a problem. Then I make a smoothy with some yogurt, sugar, and ice. It's very aromatic and quite similar to passion fruit.
 The following fruit is the one that inspired me to write this post. One of my English students brought some as a gift for me from her family farm. It is called rose apple or manzana de rosa. I've never seen this fruit for sale. It's  peculiar in that the seeds are inside a hollow space. The fruit is a bit crunchy and has an astonishing perfume like roses.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Guatemalan temari adventure

   On our recent trip to Guatemala, I was inspired to take some blank temari balls in the hopes of finding someone to put embroidery on them. Guatemala, of course, is justly famous for wonderful textiles including embroidery, but I've never seen it applied to a ball.
  We stayed about a week on Lake Atitlan. In Panajachel I found Berta Mendoza who was willing to try her hand on this project. She usually embroiders in the style of Santiago Atitlan, which is full of birds. I spent quite a few hours in Berta's shop with her and her daughter Sofia. Sofia is a university student studying child development and she lent a hand with the embroidering. Sofia also happens to speak three languages fluently and several others enough to function in the shop. Berta is somewhat more limited linguistically as she only speaks three languages. By the end of the week I was completely in awe of them.
  Besides talking about life in general and having many laughs, I showed them how to make temari and explained how they might make a good craft item to sell given the popularity of Christmas tree ornaments in North America.
  All the embroidery was done freehand without any reference material. The birds are rather whimsical—I wish these beautiful species really existed. This one looks a bit like a parrot.
 Below is a bird in flight on the other side of the same ball. Berta and Sofia took great pride in their work. I was surprised that they wanted to  carefully outline the birds because I thought they looked quite nice before that time consuming step. However I did agree after it was done that it added a lot.
A second ball I took was black and the birds they put on it were even more extravagant.
I'm looking forward to seeing Berta and Sofia on my next trip to Panajachel and to seeing in what direction they take temari balls. This project was an amazing way for me to make contact with real artisans and I'm very grateful for the experience.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Temari: stars and stripes

  This season of temari stitching brought a new accomplishment: figuring out a design from a Japanese book, even though I don't read Japanese. With experience in reading the diagrams and stitching temari this should become easier. I hope so because there are many wonderful patterns in those books. The pattern is, I believe,  from Fun with Temari (Tanoshii Temari Asobi) by Toshiko Ozaki, ISBN 4-8377-01035. I'm not completely sure because when I came to Costa Rica this year I just brought of copy of page 50 and 51 from one of the several Japanese books I own. These little confusions crop up when one is living in two places.
   Another pattern featuring stars is from It's pattern ST07 by Shelley S. It's done on a 10 combination division and the pattern is built up by stitching a five pointed star around each of the pentagons. It's fun to do because the pattern gradually emerges as you work around the ball. I put pins with little numbers in each pentagon so I would do them in the same order. That makes it easier to not miss a star on one of the rounds.
Sometimes I can now figure out how to do a temari by just looking at a photo. That was the case with one I saw on Pinterest. One thing I don't like about Pinterest is it sometimes is impossible to know who is responsible for something lovely. In this case the link took me back to the Yahoo Temari Callenge group but I don't know which of the many members did the ball.  Barb Suess did a similar ball but her last round is different because the triangles and pentagons aren't outlined. Doing it this way dramatically changes the look of the ball.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

All over the place with temari

  Recently I stitched a few balls that are completely or almost completely covered with embroidery. This style of temari is called kousa. This kind of design demands a much great degree of accuracy in the roundness of the ball, the marking, and the stitching. And because of all the stitches needed to cover the ball they take relatively longer to do.
  Once again, thank goodness for the internet where I found these lovely patterns. The first all-over design I did—shown on the left— is pattern GT31 by Ginny T. on She describes it as being fairly forgiving for this type of design. That was definitely a good thing for my first attempt at kousa.
The ball on the right is also from It's pattern CP02 by Colleen P. The same ball can be seen from a different angle in the photo below. It's quite magical how the pattern forms as you stitch and do under and overs.
The ball on the left is a much simpler design. It's pattern SC02 by Susan C. on It's on a simple 10 division with a spindle stitched in each section. Then an obi of the same color as the base (black in this case) is woven through the spindles. Simple and very effective. On all of these balls I chose my own colors. This one used some of the wonderful greens I bought in Guatemala last year in perle 8, which is finer than the size 5 I usually use.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rainbow season

In Monteverde, especially in January and February, there is often both mist and sun. Something I didn't realize before living here is that rainbows in the morning slowly sink as the sun rises and rainbows in the afternoon rise as the sun gets lower. Of course one needs long-lasting rainbows to notice this. Here are a few photos I took this rainbow season, which sadly, is now over.
  From our house.
Over the shopping center.
From a farm in lower San Luis.

From a coffee farm in upper San Luis, a rainbow that is about to set.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Qiviet: yes, I know what it means!

   One day at our weekly Scrabble get together in Monteverde, a player browsing through the dictionary read out, "Qiviet, the wool of a musk ox" and said "Who on earth would know THAT word?" Happily, I am among the lucky few with qiviet experience. Qiviet is a gloriously soft and quite rare fiber. The arctic muskox sheds its thick undercoat all in a very short period in spring and it is combed, not sheared from the coarser guard hairs. Native people used to collect tufts of qiviet that had caught on plants. That was probably easier than cornering a wild animal that as an adult weighs an average of 285 kg/630 pounds. In fact, some qiviet is still collected in the traditional way.
   Friends that visited the Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks gave me an ounce of a blend of 70% qiviet and 30% merino wool. The merino adds some spring that qiviet doesn't have, so it's an excellent blend for knitting. Qiviet itself is softer than cashmere and eight times warmer than sheep's wool.
   One ounce of my yarn was only 135 yards; we are talking a seriously rare and expensive fiber. After much thought I decided to knit a lace cowl because of the wonderful softness and because that way I won't lose it. I used a  pattern called Abstract Leaves Cowl by Deb Mulder. It's available free on Ravelry.
    Knit up, the yarn is much softer than in the skein. That's saying a lot because the skein is pretty darn soft. A sort of haze or halo develops around the yarn and according to the Large Animal Research Station website, the halo will continue to develop. On their web site you can see a fascinating video of an animal being combed. The fleece comes off in a big sheet or fleece. They also have yarn you can invest in.
   I love looking at the cowl close up. The color was called Blueberry but basically it's muskox color with undertones of bluish purple. I usually block lace but I'm going to wear this scrunched up on my neck so I didn't bother.
  While knitting this cowl I made use of my handy little electronic scale. For example I weighed my ball of yarn before and after a row of knitting and determined that one row took .5 grams of yarn. Thus I could calculate how many rows of the pattern I could do. I could also calculate when to change to the garter stitch border so that I would have enough to finish. It worked out very well because I had less than a yard left when I cast off. (I even have a project in mind for that little bit: it should be enough to make one or two knit acorns.)
  This cowl is probably the warmest garment you can make with an ounce of yarn. With the unusually cold weather we are having this week it's reassuring to have this luscious garment available.